SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - University of Notre Dame officials said Friday a $1 million research center to be built in a county park will help researchers find ways to minimize the impacts humans have on the environment.
The university held a ground breaking ceremony for the center to be built in St. Patrick's Park in St. Joseph County, about four miles north of campus near the Michigan state line. The center will focus on finding solutions to problems the pit economic interests against environmental interests, said David Lodge, director of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative.
As an example, he said the park's ecosystem could help scientists figure out ways to reduce damage caused by fertilizers carried in runoff from farms.
"We'll be able to experiment and change the stream, the pond, the wetlands, in ways to test how we can maximize the waterways to remove those fertilizers before they cause downstream problems. That's one of the powerful kinds of experiments we'll be able to do," Lodge said.
The big question scientists will try to answer, he said, is "how can we humans get what we want out of nature without leaving nature impaired in its ability to provide those things to us in the future, like clean water?"
The center should be completed by fall, and experiments are expected to begin in the spring.
The facility will have two manmade watersheds, each roughly the length and the width of a football field. They will include a manmade stream, pond and wetlands, built with liners to hold the water in. Researchers will be able to control the amount of water flowing through all or part of the system and change the water temperature by just a degree or two to see how that effects plants and species, said biological sciences professor Jennifer Tank, director of the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility.
"It offers us a lot of control," she said.
The center also will allow scientists to recreate ecosystems they can't make in a laboratory, Tank said. There are other facilities where scientists can control conditions in streams, or a pond, or wetlands, but Tank said she's unaware of any other facility where those waterways are connected, and scientists can control conditions for experiments.
Researchers also will be able to repeat experiments under the same conditions to see how things react.
"Only when you do that kind of experiment can you really be confident that you understand how the ecosystem works," Lodge said. "We just can't do that in a natural lake."
The university is leasing 28 acres at the park for $1 a year, with the waterways built on six acres, Tank said.
Students from Notre Dame and other universities are expected to use the center for experiments, and the university will develop programs for younger students. Data from sensors at the center also will allow people to monitor conditions through the Internet.